ANGERED that they could not worship publicly, 13 men piled 36 barrels of explosive powder near a government building to blow their elected representative and their king to kingdom come. Someone leaked their secret. Terrorists were arrested and tortured. Grisly hangings followed.
For 200 years afterward, the government barred members of the plotters' denomination from voting in elections, getting a college degree, practicing law or serving as officers in the army or navy.
British historian Antonia Fraser focuses on the 1605 London conspiracy by Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament in her newest book, "Faith and Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot" (Doubleday, $27.95), which will be published tomorrow. The day the plot was foiled, Nov. 5, is still a holiday, known as Guy Fawkes Day, though, as Fraser writes, Fawkes was not a major instigator. And, besides, his first name was really Guido. Fraser will be at St. Louis University on Thursday to lecture about the book and English history as the recipient of the St. Louis Literary Award, given each year by the Associates of St. Louis University Libraries, Inc. The lecture and award ceremony will be at 5 p.m. in the St. Louis Room of the university's Busch Memorial Center. Previous winners include historians Robert Penn Warren and Barbara Tuchman; novelists John Updike, William Styron and Walker Percy; and playwrights Edward Albee, August Wilson and Tennessee Williams. The Gunpowder Plot is 400 years old, but it has haunting relevance to 2 0th century terrorism in the name of God in the Middle East, Rwanda, South Africa and Northern Ireland, Fraser said in an interview from her home in London's Kensington. "People are so frightened by terrorism today, this tells them that we have always had terrorism - they just didn't use that word," said Fraser, 64. "Of course, some terrorists think that they are at war, but those of us who are not at war say they are criminals." The frustrated, naive men in the Gunpowder Plot were persecuted for thei r religion, but she does not judge them as particularly good men, she said. And they had completely deluded themselves that all Catholics would rise and fight with them. Some terrorists do become good men, Fraser said. Nelson Mandela, who planned sabotage to overcome white South African tyranny, and the Maccabees, the Biblical Jewish warriors who delivered their people from the Syrians, are examples, she continued. She hopes her new book will help readers become more respectful of different denominations and faiths after they read how authorities incited religious prejudice with punitive measures that had a tremendous impact on generations to come. Parliament, citing the terrorists, did not allow Catholics to vote until 1829. Religious stereotyping is worldwide today, she said. "Muslim friends tell me that they often encounter the stereotype that they are terrorists," she said. "Of course, there are Muslim terrorists, but most are not terrorists." And she's talked about plenty of up-to-date stories of bigotry at London airports. Irish are often whisked aside by immigration officials, quizzed and frisked as suspected Northern Irish Catholic terrorists, she said. "They equate having an Irish accent with being a terrorist," she said. The St. Louis Literary Award is given to authors for their entire body of their work, not a single book. Fraser has written or edited about 30 books. For nearly 30 years, she's taken on 16th and 17th century England, giving it a fresh study, then writing best-selling biographies and histories. …